From the archive
A look back at the Observer Magazine’s past
The Observer Magazine published the first of two articles on life after death (‘The evidence for life after life’) on 8 April 1979 and began with the case of George Ritchie, who was resuscitated with adrenaline after he’d ‘died’ for nine minutes in an army hospital in Texas in 1943. He had a religious experience some time after, but it would be 35 years later, when he was a doctor and psychiatrist, that he published his experiences in Return from Tomorrow.
One of Ritchie’s students Carl Fischer at medical school, Raymond Moody – ‘a burly and beaming man, with a philosopher’s forehead who converses with visitors in a rocking chair which he keeps in constant motion’ (not unsettling at all then) – looked for similar accounts after hearing about Ritchie’s experience.
In the article, Moody says he ‘will not be drawn into the public debate on the significance of his findings… I have done as much as
I am going to do in this field.’ Except that he went on to do just that, publishing books with titles such as Glimpses of Eternity; The Light Beyond and Paranormal: My Life in Pursuit of the Afterlife.
Other than the ‘autoscopic’ accounts – an out-of-body experience, where you feel as if you’re looking down on yourself – there are ‘transcendent’ versions, where ‘awareness passes into another mode’ and one sees, for example, ‘a figure of light who helps a review and evaluation of the past life, and shows the unfinished work which is still to be fulfilled before dying finally’. Perhaps they’d just been watching A Christmas Carol.
In another account, one man said he saw himself ‘come off the table about 9-10in’ when they were ‘rubbing those things together’ (a defibrillator)
– a myth still propagated to this day by Hollywood films and TV dramas, the nadir of which was probably Flatliners (1990). The main miracle being how any of the actors managed to have a working life after it.